Monday, June 21, 2010

Review of Then Came The Evening by Brian Hart (Bloomsbury, 2010)

Bandy Dorner returns to Idaho and his girlfriend Iona a changed man after a stint in Vietnam.  He drinks and womanises, and is quick into a fight.  Then the morning after his cabin is burnt to the ground, he’s woken by police officers who discover him crashed into a canal.  After a dip in the water, one police man has a broken nose, the other has been shot twice.  As Bandy heads for prison, Iona leaves Idaho with Bill, a more dependable sort.  Eighteen years later, Bandy is visited in prison by Tracy, the son he never knew existed.  With Bill dead and Iona scraping a living, sharing a house with her wayward sister and her bed with deadbeats, Tracy has walked out on his mother.  He wants to take up residence in his grandparent’s property, abandoned after their death.  Bandy consents and starts the process of seeking release.  Two years later and both Iona and Bandy are back in Idaho, three damaged souls circling round each other, seeking some kind of forgiveness and redemption but finding themselves socially ill-equipped and with too much baggage for an easy resolution.

Then Came The Evening has a measured rhythm, ticking along at a sedate, reflective pace.  In terms of sense of place, themes and characters it reminded me of the writing of Daniel Woodrell.  And like Woodrell, Hart is a fine wordsmith.  The characterisation is well observed and I particularly liked the awkward, stilted conversations between the three main characters; the way scenes unfolded in ways shaped by conflicting emotions and unexplained irrationalities.  Hart also does a fine job of capturing the landscape of Idaho and the fine web of relationships in small communities.  The only thing stopping this book from being a knockout is some of the plotting.  I got the sense that so much time had been spent on the prose and characterisation that this ended up being a little neglected.  A fraction ragged throughout, about two thirds of the way in the story started to unravel a little (I won’t give spoilers), particularly the thread following Bandy.  That said, the story comes to a satisfactory resolution that isn’t clichéd.  Overall, a book worth spending time with and enough promise to suggest that Hart might join Woodrell as a great writer of country noir.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds like a good one, Rob. If he's anywhere near as good as Woodrell, he's a keeper.

Rob Kitchin said...

Not quite at Woodrell level, but I think holds promise. I'm hopeful, but might go more literary line than crime.